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Showing posts from 2017

Becoming Skippy

Back when I was a teenager, around 16 or so, my friends and I would go to the roller rink. We'd skate around and listen to Motown songs. The person who skated around with us, supervising, was a guy who called himself Skippy.

Skippy was, I guess, 25-30. He was older, to give him that aura of authority. But there was something a little off about him. He had Elvis hair. By that I mean he had an elaborately combed and lightly greased pompadour. You just knew that this was the hair he had wanted to have when he was in high school. Back then, he didn't get to.

At the time, I, like a lot of boys, wanted to look like the Beatles. I didn't get to.

But Skippy, at that moment, could finally look the way he thought was cool. It just wasn't all that cool any more.

Well, a couple of years ago I was walking through an airport and I noticed that I was the only guy in the terminal with long hair. I was washing my hands in an airport restroom and, looking in the mirror, realized, "…

Graceland Cemetery: Women of Influence

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The days was clear-skied and lovely, with just a little chill in the air. I decided I haven't been taking advantage of my Chicago Architecture Foundation membership, so jumped on the Red Line up to Addison, then got connected to their tour of the Graceland Cemetery.

I'm afraid I've already forgotten our marvelous docent's name. The last name might have been Hoag. (I may have conflated this with a name I saw on a tombstone: Uriah Hair. I thought, hmm, take away the first U and you have a palindrome, and what are the odds of that?) She was, like all the docents, knowledgeable and deeply enthusiastic. She's been a docent for 10 years, and has a little badge that said she had won Outstanding Volunteer, and it doesn't surprise me.

We walked through not only a cemetery, but an arboretum, where once, our docent told us, people left the bustle of the city to take their families up to what was then a rural spot. It was a spring day, with everything coming awake. She said…

Pizza diaries: Coalfire

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After my Chicago Architecture Tour of Women of Influence (a Graceland Cemetery Walking tour,) I searched out Coalfire, a craft pizza place at 3707 N Southport Ave, Chicago, IL 60613, not far from Wrigley Field.

The verdict? Pretty darn good. The crust was thin, but had a pleasant chewiness. The sausage was sweet and minced. The white mounds you see were whipped ricotta. What else? Red peppers, garlic. And a nut brown ale, which went very well with it.

The only pizza sizes were 14", so I brought half of it home. I'd go there again.

The First Amendment and Religious Liberty

Yesterday, Trump was rumored to be considering signing a "religious liberty" executive order enabling sweeping exemptions on basic civil liberties. Today, it appears that he's just trying to overturn the Johnson Amendment. 501 (c) (3) organizations, as well as churches and universities, don't have to pay taxes; in exchange, they're not allowed to promote or oppose a particular political candidate. Trump seems to feel that restricting churches from endorsing candidates is a matter of both free speech and religious liberty. The Founders would have disagreed.

What's the problem with having specific candidate endorsements from churches?
Churches don't pay taxes, and don't do any financial accounting. What's to stop unscrupulous PACs from laundering money through churches to fund particular candidates? If churches can support candidates, then they should have to report their income. Otherwise, your church is for sale - and you'll never know who boug…

A handbook to the resistance

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At last weekend's indie book crawl I picked up On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder. Snyder, the Levin Professor of History at Yale University, is also the author of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, and Black Earth: the Holocaust as History and Warning.

I noticed the book because as an artifact it's a delight. Roughly the size of two packs of playing cards set side by side, it has 126 pages, a Prologue, and 20 chapters, most ranging from 1 to 5 pages. The plain cover has that letter press feel. The typography is gorgeous.


The premise of the book is that history can inform our lives. Snyder's deep knowledge of three periods - the rise of the USSR, the rise of Hitler, and the rise of Putin - provides a playbook for tyranny. It's clear that Snyder believes that our current president - whom he never names - is a sort of pre-tyrannical figure. What should we do about it?
These are the 20 lessons:
Do not obey in advance.Defend i…

Make Twitter more meaningful

I was just reading on Facebook that my son, Max, completed a graphic installation of his thesis at the Redline Art Gallery in Denver. He's wrapping up his degree in Digital Design at the University of Colorado Denver. In brief, he designed an app (not coded, but built the interface design for) that .... well, let me use his words.


THE PROBLEM: The gamification systems in popular social media platforms have become the reason users are addicted to using those platforms. The entire structure encourages getting more likes, comments, and views which in turn lowers the quality of content to get more digital currencies. This creates echo chambers, and generally unsatisfying social media experiences. THE QUESTION: How can we utilize extrinsic rewards to instigate an internal motivation in users to engage in discussions with people outside of their social media circles? THE OBJECTIVE: TO SET A HIGHER STANDARD FOR ONLINE DISCUSSION by providing a platform that makes it easy and enjoyable for peop…

Evaluating the director

Back in 2008 I presented with my good friend and fellow library director Eloise May, as well as one of her board members (Howard Rotham) and one of mine (Mark Weston) at a Public Library Association conference.

Our session was about how to evaluate a library director. It was based, like all good sessions, on all the things we had done wrong. We eventually figured things out, and wanted to save other people the bother of making all of our mistakes.

I had this posted on my old website as a file, and recently had a request for it. So here's my attempt to embed this from a Google Slides. Let's give it a shot. (If some of the slides are too small, click the icon to go full screen.)


Ethical Humanist Society

Yesterday morning I gave a talk about fake news for the Ethical Humanist Society. They reminded me of Unitarians - a smart bunch of folks who happen to have (due to a generous donor) their own secular church building. 


The Ethical Humanists have an interesting history. Based in Skokie, they were founded in 1882, and are a chapter of the American Humanist Association. Next week they have a highly interesting program: "Amy Ellison and Monica Long Ross of 137 Films will tell us about the making of their film company’s most recent project, currently in post-production, called “We Believe in Dinosaurs.” Shot over the course of three years, the film follows the designers and builders of the $100 million, 510-foot Noah’s Ark 'Museum' in rural Kentucky whose express purpose is debunking evolution. From blue prints to opening day, the film tells the story of the unsettling, yet uniquely American, conflict between science and religion." I just might try to get back out there.

In…

Pizza Diaries (a series)

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Yesterday, after giving a morning talk, I stopped by the Happy Camper Pizzaria for a small italian sausage, green pepper and black olive pizza. Pretty darn good. Good crust - flavor and a little chewiness, sauce that's more than tomato and sugar. A good 'un.

Imogen Cooper Plays Mozart

Thanks to the kindness of my friend Peggy Sullivan, I had the chance this evening to see Imogen Cooper, performing Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K. 503. This was both my first time to see Cooper, and to visit the Harris Theater. My seat was the very last row, but right in the center. And Peggy was right: the view, and the acoustics, were fantastic.

The rest of the show involved Jane Glover conducting Mozart (Ballet Music from Idomeneo, K. 367) and Haydn (Symphony No. 101 in D Major (clock). A terrific show.

I just love Baroque music, and the venue was great. Thanks, Peggy.

Chicago March for Science

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Today, Earth Day, I went down to Grant Park to join the estimated 40,000 people who showed up for the March for Science.

And there were stars. Beaker!



Many of the signs were equally clever. Some of them were pretty obviously political:
Make America THINK again.Science is what makes America great.I've seen smarter cabinets at IKEA.Less invasions, more equations.Einstein was a refugee.You can't repeal and replace the laws of physics.Trump's team are like atoms - they make up everything.Don't frack with science.Twitler (Trump with Hitler mustache)Facts matter.Defiance for science.We're not resisters. We're transformers. Others were more about Earth Day:
I'm with her (image of the globe). (Although come to think of it, that's political, too!)Keep the earth clean. It's not Uranus.May the forest be with you.Love yo mama (image of Earth).
Still others were just funny:
I don't think you understand the gravity of the situation. (next to an image of Isaac Ne…

Appreciative inquiry and planning

I'm just returning from the Texas Library Association, where I presented first with Marci Merola (director of ALA's Office for Library Advocacy) for our Intellectual Freedom and Advocacy Bootcamp, then with Kristin Pekoll (my assistant director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom) on intellectual freedom resources.

I also had a chance to attend former ALA President Maureen Sullivan's session on Appreciative Inquiry and strategic planning. Maureen was great as always: clear, insightful, and representing some of the current best thinking about managerial leadership. Many of us have used the SWOT exercise (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). But there's something better: SOAR. That stands for:
Strengths: what works today? What is the best of what is? As Maureen said, even in difficult times, there's always something that's going right.Opportunities: Where are the possibilities not now being pursued?Aspiration: What are our hopes and dreams? What &qu…

Intellectual Freedom in Libraries and Museums

On Friday, March 17, I presented with Svetlana Mintcheva of the National Coalition Against Censorship on the topic of Intellectual freedom and museums. Bradley Taylor, a professor of museology for the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, has long believed that the value of intellectual freedom has never quite been articulated in the museum world, although it is needed. He held this workshop to start to change that.
Professor Taylor visited me last year to ask me to address what librarians have learned about how to embed this value in a profession. I did some thinking about that, and concluded that there were several steps along the way.
A sign of the times
For the first 60-odd years of American librarianship, our motto was "the best reading for the greatest number at the least cost:" a prescriptive stance that favored serious and canonical reading, mostly non-fiction. But in 1938, amidst a rising tide of anti-immigrant and anti-ethnic fervor, Forrest Spaulding of the Des Moin…

We wanna be like Russia? Really?

The older I get, the more I think there are basically two kinds of people: builders and destroyers. Between these two, maybe, are those who appreciate things, and those who mostly ignore things. But over the years I've come to group the former with builders, and the latter with destroyers.

"I'm a Leninist," said Steven Bannon in 2013. "Lenin wanted to destroy the state. And that's my goal, too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today's establishment."

I wish I could say that I thought this was hyperbole or posturing. I don't. I believe him. For Baby Boomers, destroying institutions is what we do. Is there conflict between personal and institutional values? Well, one of us must change! Guess who?

It doesn't take much work to trace Bannon's predilections at Breitbart, and in his still early days as chief strategist for Trump. And there's Trump himself, in a bizarre bro-mance with Putin.

The question we need t…

A Day in Chicago

The King of Chicago Today I walked past a store that sparked a memory.

Almost a year ago, I had to buy a mop. I was trekking my way back from a Target, and stopped inside a storefront restaurant for some really wonderful and inexpensive middle eastern food. 

"What's with the stick?" asked the man serving me. "You mean my scepter?" I asked. "For I am the King of Chicago." He smiled, handing me my order. "Your majesty." I realize now that I should have knighted him. 

BlogAfter the midwinter conference in Atlanta, I wrote a blog about the Trump administration's attempt to halt all "public facing communications" by federal agencies, particularly the Environmental Protection Agency. I posted it yesterday. To my surprise, the post has gone almost viral - some 20,000 reposts on Facebook and Twitter. My takeaway: librarians are feisty, and not to be trifled with. This administration may find that its arrogance breeds resistance.
HaikuI wa…